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The following essays were delivered during the last ten years, in the

form of addresses, before the largest associations in the great cities

of Germany. Each one is a dear and precious possession to me. As I once

more pass them in review, reminiscences fill my mind of solemn occasions

and impressive scenes, of excellent men and charming women. I feel as

though I were sending the best beloved children of my fancy out into the

world, and sadness seizes me when I realize that they no longer belong

to me alone--that they have become the property of strangers. The living

word falling upon the ear of the listener is one thing; quite another

the word staring from the cold, printed page. Will my thoughts be

accorded the same friendly welcome that greeted them when first they

were uttered?

I venture to hope that they may be kindly received; for these addresses

were born of devoted love to Judaism. The consciousness that Israel is

charged with a great historical mission, not yet accomplished, ushered

them into existence. Truth and sincerity stood sponsor to every word. Is

it presumptuous, then, to hope that they may find favor in the New

World? Brethren of my faith live there as here; our ancient watchword,

"Sh'ma Yisrael," resounds in their synagogues as in ours; the old

blood-stained flag, with its sublime inscription, "The Lord is my

banner!" floats over them; and Jewish hearts in America are loyal like

ours, and sustained by steadfast faith in the Messianic time when our

hopes and ideals, our aims and dreams, will be realized.

There is but

one Judaism the world over, by the Jordan and the Tagus as by the

Vistula and the Mississippi. God bless and protect it, and lead it to

the goal of its glorious future!

To all Jewish hearts beyond the ocean, in free America, fraternal



BERLIN, Pesach 5652/1892.

















In a well-known passage of the _Romanzero_, rebuking Jewish women for

their ignorance of the magnificent golden age of their nation's poetry,

Heine used unmeasured terms of condemnation. He was too severe, for the

sources from which he drew his own information were of a purely

scientific character, necessarily unintelligible to the ordinary reader.

The first truly popular presentation of the whole of Jewish literature

was made only a few years ago, and could not have existed in Heine's

time, as the most valuable treasures of that literature, a veritable

Hebrew Pompeii, have been unearthed from the mould and rubbish of the

libraries within this century. Investigations of the history of Jewish

literature have been possible, then, only during the last fifty years.

But in the course of this half-century, conscientious research has so

actively been prosecuted that we can now gain at least a bird's-eye view

of the whole course of our literature. Some stretches still lie in

shadow, and it is not astonishing that eminent scholars continue to

maintain that "there is no such thing as an organic history, a logical

development, of the gigantic neo-Hebraic literature"; while such as are

acquainted with the results of late research at best concede that

Hebrew literature has been permitted to garner a "tender aftermath."

Both verdicts are untrue and unfair. Jewish literature has developed

organically, and in the course of its evolution it has had its

spring-tide as well as its season of decay, this again followed by

vigorous rejuvenescence.

Such opinions are part and parcel of the vicissitudes of our literature,

in themselves sufficient matter for an interesting book.

Strange it

certainly is that a people without a home, without a land, living under

repression and persecution, could produce so great a literature;

stranger still, that it should at first have been preserved and

disseminated, then forgotten, or treated with the disdain of prejudice,

and finally roused from torpid slumber into robust life by the breath of

the modern era. In the neighborhood of twenty-two thousand works are

known to us now. Fifty years ago bibliographers were ignorant of the

existence of half of these, and in the libraries of Italy, England, and

Germany an untold number awaits resurrection.

In fact, our literature has not yet been given a name that recommends

itself to universal acceptance. Some have called it


Literature," because during the middle ages every Jew of learning bore

the title Rabbi; others, "Neo-Hebraic"; and a third party considers it

purely theological. These names are all inadequate.

Perhaps the only one

sufficiently comprehensive is "Jewish Literature." That embraces, as it

should, the aggregate of writings produced by Jews from the earliest

days of their history up to the present time, regardless of form, of

language, and, in the middle ages at least, of subject-matter.

With this definition in mind, we are able to sketch the whole course of

our literature, though in the frame of an essay only in outline. We

shall learn, as Leopold Zunz, the Humboldt of Jewish science, well says,

that it is "intimately bound up with the culture of the ancient world,

with the origin and development of Christianity, and with the scientific

endeavors of the middle ages. Inasmuch as it shares the intellectual

aspirations of the past and the present, their conflicts and their

reverses, it is supplementary to general literature. Its peculiar

features, themselves falling under universal laws, are in turn helpful

in the interpretation of general characteristics. If the aggregate

results of mankind's intellectual activity can be likened unto a sea,

Jewish literature is one of the tributaries that feed it. Like other

literatures and like literature in general, it reveals to the student

what noble ideals the soul of man has cherished, and striven to realize,

and discloses the varied achievements of man's intellectual powers. If

we of to-day are the witnesses and the offspring of an eternal, creative

principle, then, in turn, the present is but the beginning of a future,

that is, the translation of knowledge into life.

Spiritual ideals

consciously held by any portion of mankind lend freedom to thought,

grace to feeling, and by sailing up this one stream we may reach the

fountain-head whence have emanated all spiritual forces, and about

which, as a fixed pole, all spiritual currents eddy."[1]

The cornerstone of this Jewish literature is the Bible, or what we call

Old Testament literature--the oldest and at the same time the most

important of Jewish writings. It extends over the period ending with the

second century before the common era; is written, for the most part, in

Hebrew, and is the clearest and the most faithful reflection of the

original characteristics of the Jewish people. This biblical literature

has engaged the closest attention of all nations and every age. Until

the seventeenth century, biblical science was purely dogmatic, and only

since Herder pointed the way have its æsthetic elements been dwelt upon

along with, often in defiance of, dogmatic considerations. Up to this

time, Ernest Meier and Theodor Nöldeke have been the only ones to treat

of the Old Testament with reference to its place in the history of


Despite the dogmatic air clinging to the critical introductions to the

study of the Old Testament, their authors have not shrunk from treating

the book sacred to two religions with childish arbitrariness. Since the

days of Spinoza's essay at rationalistic explanation, Bible criticism

has been the wrestling-ground of the most extravagant exegesis, of bold

hypotheses, and hazardous conjectures. No Latin or Greek classic has

been so ruthlessly attacked and dissected; no mediæval poetry so

arbitrarily interpreted. As a natural consequence, the æsthetic

elements were more and more pushed into the background.

Only recently

have we begun to ridicule this craze for hypotheses, and returned to

more sober methods of inquiry. Bible criticism reached the climax of

absurdity, and the scorn was just which greeted one of the most

important works of the critical school, Hitzig's

"Explanation of the

Psalms." A reviewer said: "We may entertain the fond hope that, in a

second edition of this clever writer's commentary, he will be in the

enviable position to tell us the day and the hour when each psalm was


The reaction began a few years ago with the recognition of the

inadequacy of Astruc's document hypothesis, until then the creed of all

Bible critics. Astruc, a celebrated French physician, in 1753 advanced

the theory that the Pentateuch--the five books of Moses-

-consists of two

parallel documents, called respectively Yahvistic and Elohistic, from

the name applied to God in each. On this basis, German science after him

raised a superstructure. No date was deemed too late to be assigned to

the composition of the Pentateuch. If the historian Flavius Josephus had

not existed, and if Jesus had not spoken of "the Law"

and "the

prophets," and of the things "which were written in the Law of Moses,

and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms," critics would have been

disposed to transfer the redaction of the Bible to some period of the

Christian era. So wide is the divergence of opinions on the subject

that two learned critics, Ewald and Hitzig, differ in the date assigned

to a certain biblical passage by no less than a thousand years!

Bible archæology, Bible exegesis, and discussions of grammatical

niceties, were confounded with the history of biblical literature, and

naturally it was the latter that suffered by the lack of differentiation. Orthodoxy assumed a purely divine origin for the Bible,

while sceptics treated the holy book with greater levity than they would

dare display in criticising a modern novel. The one party raised a hue

and cry when Moses was spoken of as the first author; the other

discovered "obscene, rude, even cannibalistic traits"[2]

in the sublime

narratives of the Bible. It should be the task of coming generations,

successors by one remove of credulous Bible lovers, and immediate heirs

of thorough-going rationalists, to reconcile and fuse in a higher

conception of the Bible the two divergent theories of its purely divine

and its purely human origin. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that

Ernest Meier is right, when he says, in his "History of the National

Poetry of the Hebrews," that this task wholly belongs to the future; at

present it is an unsolved problem.

The æsthetic is the only proper point of view for a full recognition of

the value of biblical literature. It certainly does not rob the sacred

Scriptures, the perennial source of spiritual comfort, of their exalted

character and divine worth to assume that legend, myth, and history

have combined to produce the perfect harmony which is their imperishable

distinction. The peasant dwelling on inaccessible mountain-heights, next

to the record of Abraham's shepherd life, inscribes the main events of

his own career, the anniversary dates sacred to his family. The young

count among their first impressions that of "the brown folio," and more

vividly than all else remember

"The maidens fair and true,

The sages and the heroes bold,

Whose tale by seers inspired

In our Book of books is told.

The simple life and faith

Of patriarchs of ancient day

Like angels hover near,

And guard, and lead them on the way."[3]

Above all, a whole nation has for centuries been living with, and only

by virtue of, this book. Surely this is abundant testimony to the

undying value of the great work, in which the simplest shepherd tales

and the naïvest legends, profound moral saws and magnificent images, the

ideals of a Messianic future and the purest, the most humane conception

of life, alternate with sublime descriptions of nature and the sweet

strains of love-poems, with national songs breathing hope, or trembling

with anguish, and with the dull tones of despairing pessimism and the

divinely inspired hymns of an exalted theodicy--all blending to form

what the reverential love of men has named the Book of books.

It was natural that a book of this kind should become the basis of a

great literature. Whatever was produced in later times had to submit to

be judged by its exalted standard. It became the rule of conduct, the

prophetic mirror reflecting the future work of a nation whose fate was

inextricably bound up with its own. It is not known how and when the

biblical scriptures were welded into one book, a holy canon, but it is

probably correct to assume that it was done by the _Soferim_, the

Scribes, between 200 and 150 B.C.E. At all events, it is certain that

the three divisions of the Bible--the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the

miscellaneous writings--were contained in the Greek version, the

Septuagint, so called from the seventy or seventy-two Alexandrians

supposed to have done the work of translation under Ptolemy


The Greek translation of the Bible marks the beginning of the second

period of Jewish literature, the Judæo-Hellenic. Hebrew ceased to be the

language of the people; it was thenceforth used only by scholars and in

divine worship. Jewish for the first time met Greek intellect. Shem and

Japheth embraced fraternally. "But even while the teachings of Hellas

were pushing their way into subjugated Palestine, seducing Jewish

philosophy to apostasy, and seeking, by main force, to introduce

paganism, the Greek philosophers themselves stood awed by the majesty

and power of the Jewish prophets. Swords and words entered the lists as

champions of Judaism. The vernacular Aramæan, having suffered the Greek

to put its impress upon many of its substantives, refused to yield to

the influence of the Greek verb, and, in the end, Hebrew truth, in the

guise of the teachings of Jesus, undermined the proud structure of the

heathen." This is a most excellent characterization of that literary

period, which lasted about three centuries, ending between 100 and 150

C. E. Its influence upon Jewish literature can scarcely be said to have

been enduring. To it belong all the apocryphal writings which,

originally composed in the Greek language, were for that reason not

incorporated into the Holy Canon. The centre of intellectual life was no

longer in Palestine, but at Alexandria in Egypt, where three hundred

thousand Jews were then living, and thus this literature came to be

called Judæo-Alexandrian. It includes among its writers the last of the

Neoplatonists, particularly Philo, the originator of the allegorical

interpretation of the Bible and of a Jewish philosophy of religion;

Aristeas, and pseudo-Phokylides. There were also Jewish _littérateurs_:

the dramatist Ezekielos; Jason; Philo the Elder; Aristobulus, the

popularizer of the Aristotelian philosophy; Eupolemos, the historian;

and probably the Jewish Sybil, who had to have recourse to the oracular

manner of the pagans to proclaim the truths of Judaism, and to Greek

figures of speech for her apocalyptic visions, which foretold, in

biblical phrase and with prophetic ardor, the future of Israel and of

the nations in contact with it.

Meanwhile the word of the Bible was steadily gaining importance in

Palestine. To search into and expound the sacred text had become the

inheritance of the congregation of Jacob, of those that had not lent ear

to the siren notes of Hellenism. Midrash, as the investigations of the

commentators were called, by and by divided into two streams--Halacha,

which establishes and systematizes the statutes of the Law, and Haggada,

which uses the sacred texts for homiletic, historical, ethical, and

pedagogic discussions. The latter is the poetic, the former, the

legislative, element in the Talmudic writings, whose composition,

extending over a thousand years, constitutes the third, the most

momentous, period of Jewish literature. Of course, none of these periods

can be so sharply defined as a rapid survey might lead one to suppose.

For instance, on the threshold of this third epoch stands the figure of

Flavius Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, who, at once an

enthusiastic Jew and a friend of the Romans, writes the story of his

nation in the Greek language--a character as peculiar as his age, which,

listening to the mocking laughter of a Lucian, saw Olympus overthrown

and its gods dethroned, the Temple at Jerusalem pass away in flame and

smoke, and the new doctrine of the son of the carpenter at Nazareth

begin its victorious course.

By the side of this Janus-faced historian, the heroes of the Talmud

stand enveloped in glory. We meet with men like Hillel and Shammaï,

Jochanan ben Zakkaï, Gamaliel, Joshua ben Chananya, the famous Akiba,

and later on Yehuda the Prince, friend of the imperial philosopher

Marcus Aurelius, and compiler of the Mishna, the authoritative code of

laws superseding all other collections. Then there are the fabulist

Meïr; Simon ben Yochaï, falsely accused of the authorship of the

mystical Kabbala; Chiya; Rab; Samuel, equally famous as a physician and

a rabbi; Jochanan, the supposed compiler of the Jerusalem Talmud; and

Ashi and Abina, the former probably the arranger of the Babylonian

Talmud. This latter Talmud, the one invested with authority among Jews,

by reason of its varying fortunes, is the most marvellous literary

monument extant. Never has book been so hated and so persecuted, so

misjudged and so despised, on the other hand, so prized and so honored,

and, above all, so imperfectly understood, as this very Talmud.

For the Jews and their literature it has had untold significance. That

the Talmud has been the conservator of Judaism is an irrefutable

statement. It is true that the study of the Talmud unduly absorbed the

great intellectual force of its adherents, and brought about a somewhat

one-sided mental development in the Jews; but it also is true, as a

writer says,[4] that "whenever in troublous times scientific inquiry was

laid low; whenever, for any reason, the Jew was excluded from

participation in public life, the study of the Talmud maintained the

elasticity and the vigor of the Jewish mind, and rescued the Jew from

sterile mysticism and spiritual apathy. The Talmud, as a rule, has been

inimical to mysticism, and the most brilliant Talmudists, in propitious

days, have achieved distinguished success in secular science. The Jew

survived ages of bitterness, all the while clinging loyally to his faith

in the midst of hostility, and the first ray of light that penetrated

the walls of the Ghetto found him ready to take part in the intellectual

work of his time. This admirable elasticity of mind he owes, first and

foremost, to the study of the Talmud."

From this much abused Talmud, as from its contemporary the Midrash in

the restricted sense, sprouted forth the blossoms of the Haggada--that


"Where the beauteous, ancient sagas, Angel legends fraught with meaning,

Martyrs' silent sacrifices,

Festal songs and wisdom's sayings,

Trope and allegoric fancies--

All, howe'er by faith's triumphant

Glow pervaded--where they gleaming,

Glist'ning, well in strength exhaustless.

And the boyish heart responsive

Drinks the wild, fantastic sweetness, Greets the woful, wondrous anguish,

Yields to grewsome charm of myst'ry, Hid in blessed worlds of fable.

Overawed it hearkens solemn

To that sacred revelation

Mortal man hath poetry called."[5]

A story from the Midrash charmingly characterizes the relation between

Halacha and Haggada. Two rabbis, Chiya bar Abba, a Halachist, and

Abbahu, a Haggadist, happened to be lecturing in the same town. Abbahu,

the Haggadist, was always listened to by great crowds, while Chiya, with

his Halacha, stood practically deserted. The Haggadist comforted the

disappointed teacher with a parable. "Let us suppose two merchants," he

said, "to come to town, and offer wares for sale. The one has pearls and

precious gems to display, the other, cheap finery, gilt chains, rings,

and gaudy ribbons. About whose booth, think you, does the crowd

press?--Formerly, when the struggle for existence was not fierce and

inevitable, men had leisure and desire for the profound teachings of the

Law; now they need the cheering words of consolation and hope."

For more than a thousand years this nameless spirit of national poesy

was abroad, and produced manifold works, which, in the course of time,

were gathered together into comprehensive collections, variously named

Midrash Rabba, Pesikta, Tanchuma, etc. Their compilation was begun in

about 700 C. E., that is, soon after the close of the Talmud, in the

transition period from the third epoch of Jewish literature to the

fourth, the golden age, which lasted from the ninth to the fifteenth

century, and, according to the law of human products, shows a season of

growth, blossom, and decay.

The scene of action during this period was western Asia, northern

Africa, sometimes Italy and France, but chiefly Spain, where Arabic

culture, destined to influence Jewish thought to an incalculable degree,

was at that time at its zenith. "A second time the Jews were drawn into

the vortex of a foreign civilization, and two hundred years after

Mohammed, Jews in Kairwan and Bagdad were speaking the same language,

Arabic. A language once again became the mediatrix between Jewish and

general literature, and the best minds of the two races, by means of the

language, reciprocally influenced each other. Jews, as they once had

written Greek for their brethren, now wrote Arabic; and, as in

Hellenistic times, the civilization of the dominant race, both in its

original features and in its adaptations from foreign sources, was

reflected in that of the Jews." It would be interesting to analyze this

important process of assimilation, but we can concern ourselves only

with the works of the Jewish intellect. Again we meet, at the threshold

of the period, a ch